A sweet deal: New Hampshire wins grant to support maple syrup producers

By: - October 18, 2022 5:51 am

“Maple syrup for sale” signs – such as this one in Hopkinton – are easy to find throughout the state. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

New Hampshire has been awarded a $388,080 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fund research and promotion of maple syrup – an $8.2 million industry in the state, according to the USDA’s numbers from 2021.  

The Department of Business and Economic Affairs wants to spend its “Acer” award on marketing materials, a market research report, recipe development, and trade show participation. The Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee approved that proposal on Friday.

It is not the first Acer award for the state since the competitive grant program was launched in 2014. The University of New Hampshire received an award in 2020 to research a new tap design and again in 2022 to research wood formation and sap yields, according to the department’s request. Next year the team of UNH researchers plans to test its new design to see if it outperforms the conventional tap used by the industry, said David Moore, who researches syrup production at UNH. 

The department wants to use the latest grant to work with the Division of Travel and Tourism Development on making marketing materials that maple syrup producers could use to advertise their products and facilities, with the goal of boosting sales and tourism.

Around two-thirds of New Hampshire’s syrup is produced by 23 sugar makers, or 5 percent of the producers in the state, according to the latest USDA census published in 2017. Those operations have over 5,000 taps and some have 10,000 or more. The typical operation has between 100 and 499 taps, making up around 42 percent of the state’s 525 sugar makers – but they produce only around 4.5 percent of the state’s syrup.

Because those numbers are self-reported, they likely exclude some small-scale producers that are wary of reporting to the government, said Steven Roberge, a forest resources specialist and professor at the UNH Cooperative Extension.

In 2022, New Hampshire ranked sixth in maple syrup production in the nation, producing 167,000 gallons of syrup, according to a report on Statista. Vermont led the nation in maple production at 2.5 million gallons, followed by New York, Maine, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

New Hampshire’s neighbor to the west outproduces the Granite State 15 to 1 when it comes to maple syrup. One reason, according to Roberge, comes from the ground.

“Vermont’s soils are very different from New Hampshire’s soils,” he said. Vermont has more of a calcium bedrock, which means the soils there have a higher pH. They are less acidic than New Hampshire soil and more conducive to sugar maple. “So that granite state makes a difference,” Roberge said. “Where we have sugar bushes in New Hampshire tends to be on very fertile ground.”

The history of land use in the two states is another key difference. New Hampshire was quick to turn to manufacturing in places like Manchester and Keene, according to Roberge. That meant a lot of people left farms around the state to move to industrial centers.

That also occurred in Vermont, but to a lesser degree. There, the tradition of sugaring stayed alive on the farm, Roberge said. 

“It was a lucrative part of farming at the time. Sugaring could pay for a hired hand, so they kept doing it, while people were logging off sugar bushes here in New Hampshire,” he said.

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s energy and environment reporter. She previously reported on these issues at VTDigger. Amanda grew up in Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in creative writing, from Dartmouth College. Her work has also appeared in the LA Review of Books and the Valley News.

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